Spoilers, sort of, but who cares?
An hour and a half into my screening of Black Panther, the power went out in the movie theater. I have never been more grateful for a blown fuse. Let’s begin with the enjoyable aspects of the movie: the acting is as good as one might expect from so dreadful a script, and the visual effects are fine. It also makes some Marvel movies seem watchable by comparison, which is an accomplishment. Now on to everything else.
If you think the trouble with the annual slate of 750 million tedious and rigidly formulaic superhero movies is that the plots are too coherent and insufficiently political, Black Panther is the film for you. The premise is that ample mineable metals and isolation from Western colonialism has allowed the African nation of Wakanda to develop into a just, equitable, and free technological utopia, while white “colonizers” oppress black people around the world through mechanisms such as the trans-Atlantic slave trade and CIA interventions in African countries.
The movie centers explicitly around race. The name coincides with not only the Black Panthers Tank Battalion from World War II, but also the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and several other precursors of the Black Panther Party, which was officially founded the same year the Black Panther comic debuted. The Wakanda religion worships no God or gods but only “the ancestors.” The central conflict of the film, which begins with a debate between isolationism and intervention, becomes instead whether to aid oppressed black people around the world through militancy or community centers in Oakland. White culpability for global inequality is accepted without question by protagonist and antagonist alike.
The films screenwriters seem unaware that slavery in Africa predates Western colonialism by millennia. In early African Islamic states, a full third of the population was enslaved as early as the eighth century. Entire African empires were built on the trans-Saharan slave trade, including the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, and the Songhai Empire. An estimated 660,000 people remain enslaved in Africa even today. Ironically, Western colonialism is one of the few forces ever to encourage the abolition of slavery on that continent. By the time the British defeated the Sokoto caliphate of northern Nigeria in 1903, the territory’s Muslim overlords had enslaved two-and-a-half million people throughout the kingdom. Within a few decades of British rule, slavery was officially abolished.
As for the powerful Vibranium metal, which combined with cultural isolation allowed Wakandans to become the world’s technological pioneers, the “Democratic” “Republic” of the Congo already boasts the largest reserves on earth of a similarly powerful blue ore: it’s called cobalt, and that country’s corrupt regime sells most of it to China. Gold, iron, salt, diamonds, uranium, bauxite, copper, petroleum, silver, and cocoa have also abounded on the African continent since the earth was formed.
While the film’s central thesis is explicitly racial, leftists of a more intersectional variety won’t leave disappointed. While the world’s militaries, Silicon Valley, and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing employ relatively few women, in the fictive kingdom of Wakanda all of the most fearsome soldiers, inventive scientists, and dexterous racecar drivers are ladies. Exasperated, the brilliant inventor and surgeon Shuri exclaims upon seeing the man she is asked to help heal, “Oh great, another broken white boy for me to fix.” The screenwriters fail even to attempt an explanation of this phenomenon, but audiences can safely infer that Western culture — the only liberating force for women in history — must be to blame.
Actual spoiler, but again, who cares?
The merciful ending credits cut out midway to a scene in which King T’Challa addresses the United Nations. He proclaims that the time has come for Wakanda to share its technology and knowledge with the world. “Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows,” he explains.
We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we as brothers and sisters on this earth should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.
In reality, that time came two and a half centuries ago in 1776, when a nation was founded on the belief that all men are created equal and endowed with natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States has since shared its unparalleled technology, creed, and wealth at a current rate of over $40 billion per year with the rest of the world. It has deployed its own young men to fight and die to protect the life and liberty of other peoples. It fought a bloody civil war to abolish the peculiar institution of slavery, which is peculiar only in the West and continues to thrive in territories that have evaded Western influence.
As a matter of political institutions and culture, the United States is the least racist country in the history of the world, largely because it was founded by a culture that worships God, in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek … neither slave nor free … neither male nor female,” rather than “the ancestors,” which is to say “the race.” At least this insipid fantasy gets one thing right: if Wakanda existed, the Wakandans would speak English.